Tuesday, May 8, 2018

On HC nudge, Punjab govt forms panel to free land grabbed by ‘high and mighty’

Sukhdeep Kaur|Hindustan Times|Chandigarh| May 5, 2018

After years of no action, two reports on land grab by the “high and mighty” in the periphery of Chandigarh have been finally dug out. It comes after the Punjab and Haryana High Court told the government, “Our hands are not tied and we will go till the end of the matter.”
The report of Justice Kuldip Singh, a former Supreme Court judge, had named several politicians, police officers and bureaucrats who had grabbed panchayat (shamlat or common) land. The HC had formed a special tribunal under Justice Kuldip but the SAD-BJP regime led by Parkash Singh Badal government challenged it in the Supreme Court. The SC did not stay the operation of the tribunal but, after submitting two interim reports, Justice Kuldip expressed his inability to continue due to health issues. His probe had highlighted land grab in villages such as Nada, Karoran and Bartana in the periphery of Chandigarh to show how record mutations were done in connivance with revenue and panchayat officers.
Now, a cabinet sub-committee formed to ensure maintenance of government assets and lands — it is headed by local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, and has rural development minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa and revenue minister Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria as members — has entrusted a panel under Justice SS Saron (retd), who heads the Punjab Revenue Commission, and former director general of police (DGP) Chandra Shekar, who probed land grab by officers in the UT’s periphery, to find out and free government land under illegal occupation.
While the tribunal was set up for all of Punjab, Chander Shekar’s report was a vigilance probe into land deals in and around Chandigarh.
“The HC has asked the Punjab government about the follow-up action on the reports. I had submitted 12 reports after examining revenue records. Nearly 25,000 acres were illegally occupied in Mohali district alone,” Chandra Shekar said, adding, “Going by the average of Mohali, an estimated five to six lakh acres of government land is under illegal occupation throughout Punjab.”
Sidhu said the government would nail anyone found guilty of land grab, “irrespective of clout”. He added, “The Badal government swept everything under the carpet. Two cabinet sub-committees were set up on the matter by the previous regime too, but no action was taken. There was no audit of the land lease agreements too. In some cases, there are no agreements. Land grabbed in Mohali alone exceeds the entire debt burden of Punjab — nearly Rs 2 lakh crore.”
The cabinet sub-committee has asked all departments and every board and corporation for details of land under encroachment, under litigation and that which is not utilised. Mayors of all 10 municipal corporations and a representative each from the revenue, water resources management, local government, rural development and panchayat, forest, and public works (B&R) departments, and the state waqf board will be part of the panel to be headed by Justice Saron.


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